Thursday, December 31, 2020
Monday, December 28, 2020
The short answer is "when they are using TERF arguments to argue against transgender rights and/or treatment issues.
The longer answer is more interesting. I got tagged into a Twitter discussion with a former UCP candidate in Calgary whose candidacy ended when some very racist statements she made (and claims were taken out of context) came to light.
While I am fairly certain that Ms. Ford would argue that she is absolutely not a TERF, her choice of arguments and sources are decidedly classic for TERFs. Allow me to explain.
Again, this is a fairly classic technique used to sidestep taking ownership of the problems in her position. Instead, she shifts to demanding that I provide an alternate explanation for whatever she thinks is the problem that the Littman paper addresses. (The Littman paper is a classic case of designing a study to find the conclusions that you already have in mind).
Every time, the general response was the same. When someone would point out the errors and misconceptions in what she was arguing, she would shut up and throw another random counterpoint on the table.
Friday, December 25, 2020
During the 2019 Alberta Election, a number of UCP candidates were tagged by opposition as having track records of peddling hate. Several of these candidates ended up stepping aside during the election as a result. One of these was Caylan Ford. At the time, I pretty much shrugged and thought to myself "that's par for the course, so long to bad rubbish". Usually when this happens, the candidate disappears for several years until the heat has gone off and they decide it's time to take another run at elected office.
Then this week rolled around, and I started seeing Ms. Ford's name rolling around on Twitter as a result of the following National Post article: Howard Anglin: The Smear Campaign That Took Down A Promising Politician. To be fair, Anglin is a conservative partisan, so I didn't expect him to do much more than bitch and moan about "cancel culture" (which is basically what he does).
However, it did prompt me to go back and review what had happened, and in particular what she had allegedly written. The Press Progress article about it "UCP Candidate Who Complained 'White Supremacist Terrorists' Are Treated Unfairly, Leaked Messages Show", as well as her post-resignation essay on the matter: "Apologia" (which is some 30 pages of extemporaneous recollection of the conversation that Press Progress referred to).
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
So, Discovery Institute's blog "Evolution News" has published a lengthy series of essays on transgender people, and the diagnosis and treatment of transgender youth in particular. It's 7 or so essays, each one probably a good 1,000 words or more. I'm not going to dissect each essay in detail. There is so much twisting of both the science and the realities of how treatment progresses that I only need to take one apart to give you a flavour for how bad these really are. The following essay has been selected in part because it seems representative of the level of twisting going on.
Let's get started, shall we?
In 2019, psychologists Richard Bränström and John Pachankis published a study of 9,747,324 Swedes. The goal was to determine whether “gender-affirming [cross-sex] hormone and surgical treatment” improved the mental health of people with gender incongruence.
Bränström and Pachankis found no evidence of improvement from cross-sex hormones. But they concluded that the evidence “lends support to the decision to provide gender-affirming surgeries to transgender individuals who seek them.” Critics objected that this conclusion was not warranted by the data. So the authors revised their article. The journal editor published a correction, stating that “the results demonstrated no advantage of surgery.”
First of all, the study itself is extremely broad, and it starts off asking the question whether someone who has had gender affirming treatment has less need for mental health treatment. That's an extremely broad question with so many confounding factors in it, I'm surprised the authors even proceeded with it. Gender affirming treatment relieves anxiety specifically about one's gender and physical sex. It has very little to do with anything else.
When I mentioned confounds, there are a whole bunch of things that can cause the statistics to skew. First, having experience with mental health practitioners means that transgender people are more likely to access those services when they are having difficulties. Second, we should not underestimate the consequences of minority stress on transgender people, and the long term anxieties that can emerge as a result of trying to function in society that is generally unsupportive of transgender people.
To be clear, I am not saying that the study is invalid, rather I am cautioning anyone reading it to recognize that there are enormous question marks that the study is unable to adequately explore and address. Therefore, drawing absolute conclusions about gender-affirming treatment from it is hugely problematic.
A 2020 study surveyed 20,619 transgender Americans between 18 and 36. They were asked if they had ever wanted puberty blockers as adolescents. About 17 percent said yes. Of these, only 2.5 percent actually received the medication. The goal of the study was to compare “adult mental health outcomes” of those who received puberty blockers with those who wanted them but didn’t get them. The authors adjusted the data to account for age, biological sex, and household income, among other things. They concluded that giving puberty blockers to teens who want them reduces the risk of suicidal thoughts.
The journal that published the 2020 study also published some comments about it. One comment, by pediatricians Scott Field and Den Trumbull, was very critical. They pointed out that the data were collected by survey. So “there is no way of knowing how many would-be participants in either group actually succumbed to suicide.”
Again, it's important to recognize some of the confounding factors at play here. First of all, the transgender community is notoriously hard to get people to participate in studies. That in itself is a confounding factor. That the sample size is over 20,000 for this study is impressive. Surveys are also known to be problematic for a variety of reasons, including respondents being self selecting, and potentially telling the researchers what they think the researcher wants to hear.
Again, the lesson here is that drawing conclusions from a study like this is probably not ideal. It makes observations that are interesting, but much more rigorous studies need to be conducted to draw any kind of conclusions. Of course, the writer of the essay on Evolution News wants us to conclude that puberty blockers are ineffective in treating gender dysphoria. I would be very cautious about drawing such a conclusion.
A total of 6,793 people visited the gender clinic of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam from 1972 to 2015. A 2018 study reviewed their medical records for regrets about having “bottom surgery.” About 0.6 percent of the males regretted having their testicles removed. About 0.3 percent of the females regretted having their ovaries removed.
This evidence seems to suggest that regret is rare. But the evidence comes only from medical records kept by the professionals who recommended and performed the sex reassignments. How likely is it that sex-reassigned people would later report their regrets to those professionals? We don’t know. How much follow-up did those records include? We don’t know. So the quantitative evidence pertaining to regret is quite thin.
Yet there is growing anecdotal evidence for it.
Now we get into the whoppers. The evidence cited clearly doesn't show what the author wants to show - namely that "a lot of people experience regret" after surgery, so he throws in at the end a snipe about anecdotal evidence.
Anecdotal evidence is important in research because it helps identify questions that should be asked. That said, anecdotes are individual stories, not population-wide data. Sub-1% regrets hardly seems like a huge "put on the brakes" problem. In fact for most medical treatments, failure rates in that range would be considered beyond fantastically good.
In 1983, after 16 years of marriage, Heyer went to see a gender therapist. On his second visit, the therapist gave him a prescription for estrogen. The therapist also gave him an authorization for sex-reassignment surgery. He trusted the therapist, so he divorced his wife and had sex-reassignment surgery soon afterwards. He lived eight years as a woman, but he regretted having transitioned. At the age of fifty he “de-transitioned.”
Okay, speaking of whoppers, every time the subject of "regret" comes up, this guy gets trotted out as the "expert". Walt Heyer is no expert. In fact, I think it is far better to view Walt Heyer as a poster child for how not to conduct a gender transition. For those interested, I wrote a lengthy essay some time ago about Walt Heyer and his story: Walt Heyer, Detransition, and the WPATH SOC.
Using Heyer's own autobiography as a source, there is precious little evidence that he actually lived full time as a woman. Concluding anything from his story is perhaps better seen as an exercise in
The idea that the other 0.02 percent should routinely have genital surgery was promoted by sexologist John Money. The idea that “gender” is different from biological sex also owes its popularity to John Money. The idea resulted in tragedy for David Reimer, though Money never publicly admitted it.
This is the last of the whoppers, and it's truly a doozy. The anti-transgender crowd should really understand that using Dr. Money and David Reimer as cannon fodder for their hatred is utterly stupid.
First, let me start off by saying that what happened to David Reimer was an utter tragedy, a failure of both professional ethics as well as a deeply flawed understanding of human development.
There are a number of reasons why using this case to bolster an anti-transgender position is guaranteed to fail:
1. Dr. Money's hypothesis
Dr. Money was working from a perspective that can be broadly understood as "tabla rasa" (or blank slate). His idea was that gender identity is largely based on learned behaviours, and when the David Reimer case came to his attention, he persuaded the family to participate in his experiment, which was to raise David as a girl after a botched circumcision destroyed infant David's penis. His experiment failed, with tragic results.
2. David Reimer was not transgender
Let's be abundantly clear, David Reimer wasn't transgender when a circumcision destroyed his penis. Nor was he even subject to any known intersex condition. In other words, we have no evidence that David had anything in common with any transgender child prior to Dr. Money's involvement.
It is perhaps a bit of an irony that Dr. Money may have _made_ David into a transgender person by having him subjected to GRS as a child, and David proceeded to gravitate towards being masculine even when pressured enormously to be feminine.
3. The Result of Dr. Money's Experiment
Although the long term outcome of the David Reimer story is profoundly tragic, from a purely experimental perspective, it actually demonstrates some important points:
- The blank slate hypothesis is fundamentally false. There is more to gender than a series of learned behaviours. This is something which transgender people have argued for years on the basis of their lived experiences.
- There are aspects of gender which are set long before we are able to express them.
- David's persistence that he was not a girl when being raised as one is exactly parallel to the experience of many transgender people. They know they don't really belong to their birth-assigned sex even as they live that role.
4. Impact On Transgender Treatment and Research
Dr. Money's ideas haven't been significantly influential among transgender researchers for decades. The impact of the Reimer case was more keenly felt among the Intersex community who for years were subjected to "corrective" surgeries as a result of the initial reports.
Citing Money as if he defined how transgender people should be treated is completely missing the point. There are others whose work was much more influential and important.
Thursday, November 26, 2020
I'm no fan of Premier Kenney in Alberta. I didn't like him when he first emerged to run for MP, and his actions as an MP disgusted me most of the time.
Then there are this morning's revelations of political interference in the Chief Medical Officer of Health's (CMOH) conduct of her duties. The article is lengthy and thorough. Suffice it to say that Kenney and his Minister of Health, Tyler Shandro have been exerting far more political influence than is justified in the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I'm not going to spend a lot of time trashing Kenney over this - frankly, if you couldn't see that coming from Kenney the day he set foot in Alberta politics, you probably just haven't been paying attention.
It's Dr. Deena Hinshaw that I want to pay a little bit of attention to today.
Up to this point, we have suspected that Dr. Hinshaw has found herself being ignored by the Kenney government, but she has been fairly cagey about what's going on behind the scenes. Perhaps she has even held the belief that she can "change things from within" - frankly I do not know. What I do know is that Dr. Hinshaw now faces a serious ethical quandary.
Up to this point, many in the public have been willing to grant Dr. Hinshaw the benefit of the doubt. Saying, in essence "well, she seems to be trying to do the right things, so we'll trust her". Now we have clear evidence of how Kenney and Shandro have been exerting political control over her actions as CMOH.
There's an ethical dilemma for Dr. Hinshaw at this point. We now know unequivocally that she hasn't been able to exercise the kind of decision making authority that she should. This blows a giant hole in her credibility as the public face of the government's COVID-19 response. The question so many will ask is simple: "Is she saying what she believes, or is she being ordered by politicians to say what she is saying?"
In the first case, we have to suspect that she is in fact complicit with the government's political decision making, regardless of its impact on the people of Alberta; in the second case, we have to conclude that she is ineffective because she is essentially hostage to the political interventions of Kenney and Shandro.
Whether I personally like Dr. Hinshaw or not is immaterial. She is caught in the ethical morass of trying to juggle political intervention in her work with the more science and data driven aspects of it.
The civil service is supposed to be non-partisan, and the various Officers of that civil service should be able to operate independently of the political considerations of the minister's wishes. Because Dr. Hinshaw reports not to the Legislature as a whole (as I think should be the case), but reports to the Minister of Health, her ability to act independently is severely curtailed.
Therefore, Dr. Hinshaw now stands at a precipice in her career. She can resign as CMOH, citing political interference in her work as a confounding problem in her ability to act effectively, or she can stay in place, and becomes seen as complicit in the actions of the Kenney government, no matter how awful they get.
Ethically, let's remember that which ever direction she chooses to go, her actions will have a serious impact on Albertans.
If she leaves the post, we are likely to see Kenney appoint someone whose partisan pedigree is more suitable to his way of viewing things. That could be even more damaging to Alberta than staying - although staying in place has another price to consider.
If Dr. Hinshaw remains in her post, not only does she end up taking on the personal cost of trying to constantly weigh her duties as a practitioner against the political interference coming from the minister's offices, but she potentially will come to be seen as complicit with the government in their mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic. Neither choice is particularly enviable.
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General to explore options to establish a voluntary civilian corps to assist law enforcement in Alberta.
They want to introduce vocational streaming in elementary school grades. Think about this for a moment. That means that the school system as a whole is being re-jigged specifically to set a student’s career direction in primary school grades. This literally puts parents in the position of having to decide their child’s direction far too early in life. A child who is struggling to learn how to read, or do basic sums in arithmetic shouldn’t have their career path set for them based on who they are at that point in life.
This is a very dangerous path for Alberta to walk. Politically, it creates an environment where the government can suddenly start to restrict the material that is made available to students along socio-economic lines, reinforcing the socio-economic position of their parents as defining what will be available to their children.
You can start to see the shape of using education to establish a rigid class structure in society. The wealthy will be able to afford private schools which provide a rich pedagogy and prepares students for advanced study. In the pseudo-private public system of Charter schools that Kenney is lining up to create, students will be carefully streamed according to the perceived worth of their parents. Remember, Charter Schools can market themselves to very narrow demographics which will focus who is likely to apply to them. A public system, such as remains, will be used to provide an absolute bare minimum to those who fall through the filters of wealth and privilege being set up. Post-secondary opportunities are being tiered based on money, with tuition fees rising rapidly, and students being forced into increasing debt. It won’t be long before you see a return to the indentured servitude of medieval style “apprenticeships” returning.
Who benefits from all this? Strangely enough, it’s Kenney’s corporate owners that benefit the most. They get a workforce that is specifically tailored to their whims, and one that is cowed by the presence of roaming bands of pseudo law-enforcement that will conveniently be just violent enough that no individual will dare cross them. If that doesn’t tick off a ton of the boxes that describe fascism, I don’t know what does.
Sunday, May 31, 2020
I do not merely speak of the riots currently going on in the US over George Floyd's murder at the hands of police. Nor do I simply refer to the economic wreckage that will be the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic - those are but symptoms of a far greater ailment that afflicts the American state.
In 2016, the United States elected Donald Trump as their president. He rode to power not on a greater vision for America, but on a populist wave of rejecting reasoned government and evidence-based policy making. His victory was largely on the basis of convincing people that there are simple things that can be done which will "make America great" - and most of the people he convinced are those who are seeing the world move beyond them and leaving them behind - and they are rightfully scared.
Unfortunately for the American people, what they really elected was a kleptocracy. Trump was well known as a grifter in business circles. He made millions marketing his name through a variety of enterprises that ultimately failed. Suppliers and contractors often found their bills being slashed in half and renegotiated when they tried to pursue unpaid invoices. Trump would structure everything he could to funnel money into his businesses, and no doubt future digging through the archives of his administration will find much more chicanery which would benefit both himself and the GOP legislators who have chosen to support him.
It is not merely Trump's personal greed that serves to undermine things. It is his willingness to take corrosive actions which erode civil society. Trump's association with truth has always been a little dodgy, but his outright temper tantrum when Twitter fact-checked one of his tweets about mail-in ballots is a huge clue to how bad things really are.
However, Trump's presidency exists not because he can unify people, but rather because he exists in an era where multiple corrosive factors have been weakening civil society. Systemic racism is the obvious factor in the current riots, but we cannot ignore the epidemic levels of mass shootings witnessed in the last 15 years, nor the growing economic inequality as the wealthiest manage to lock down their control over the majority of the wealth. Perhaps even more concerning was Trump's placement of his children at the cabinet table - not because they are domain experts, but really to set up a line of succession.
Trump himself is corrosive to the idea of civil discourse, doubling down on overt lies for the purpose of propping himself up. While I understand the idea that truth can be subjective, cooking up a pack of lies simply to support a particular position is not merely unethical, but it is corrosive to the idea that there can be multiple perspectives on a topic which are worthy of debate. Trump's approach is "I'm right, you're wrong", which weakens a fundamental pillar of the concept of an elected government.
However, Trump is no grandmaster in this game. At best, he is the opportunistic person who happened to be in the right place to take advantage of it. There have been decades worth of moves which have created the environment that enabled Trump. Failures to address societal inequality issues; groups like the NRA pushing to create an armed society; the erosion of public education starting in the 1980s with Reagan; and on the list goes. All of these are corrosive to the cohesiveness of society.
While I do not expect the current riots to collapse the USA, make no mistake that the cracks in the foundation are clear. How long it will take to collapse fully is an open question, but the collapse is arguably underway.
Friday, February 21, 2020
The name "Buffalo" is a nod to an early proposal to create a province called that from the region of the Northwest Territories that is now Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Synopsis of the Buffalo Declaration
- Alberta has never been an equal participant in confederation
- Alberta is a culturally distinct region
- Alberta is physically and structurally isolated from Canada's power structures
- Alberta is treated as a colony
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It came to my attention a day ago that our government is tinkering with things again ...and not in a good way. In this case, we are talki...